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How to Write The Perfect Physical Therapy SOAP Note + Examples and Templates

Understanding and effectively utilizing SOAP notes is essential. This structured documentation method is crucial for tracking patient progress and facilitating clear communication among healthcare professionals. SOAP notes, which stand for Subjective, Objective, Assessment, and Plan, allow therapists to systematically record and analyze the details of patient encounters. By adhering to this format, you ensure that patient care is meticulously documented, aiding in the clinical reasoning process and enabling tailored adjustments to treatment plans based on a thorough analysis of patient data. Embracing the SOAP notes framework is a step towards enhancing your clinical practice and ensuring quality patient care.

Physical Therapy SOAP Notes

In the practice of physical therapy, the seamless integration of SOAP notes into daily routines has been made easier with practice management systems and EHR software offering built-in physical therapy SOAP note templates. As this article delves into how to construct the perfect Physical Therapy SOAP note, it will guide you through understanding the basics, detail each component with examples and templates, and highlight the best practices for efficient documentation. This structured approach not only contributes to patient progress assessment but also optimizes the treatment planning phase, enhancing the overall quality of physical therapy practice.

Understanding SOAP Note Basics

Understanding the intricacies of SOAP notes is fundamental for physical therapy professionals to document patient care effectively. Each of the four components—Subjective, Objective, Assessment, and Plan—serves a distinct purpose in capturing a comprehensive view of patient progress and treatment plans.

Subjective: This section is the narrative heart of the SOAP note, where the patient's self-reported condition, symptoms, and personal history are detailed. It includes:

  • Patient's current condition and symptoms

  • Personal, social, and family history

  • Employment and environmental background

  • Any changes in function or activity level

Objective: Here, measurable data collected by the physical therapist is documented. It encompasses:

  • Observations, tests, and measurements

  • Quantifiable data such as range of motion and manual muscle testing

  • Any diagnostic information reviewed

Assessment: This component synthesizes the subjective and objective data to form the therapist's professional opinion. It addresses:

  • Patient progress and response to treatment

  • Remaining impairments and functional limitations

  • Adjustments to established goals based on findings

Plan: The final section outlines the treatment strategy moving forward. It specifies:

  • Anticipated goals and expected outcomes

  • Treatment interventions and progression

  • Frequency and duration of sessions

  • Patient education strategies

Despite their widespread adoption and the clarity they bring to patient documentation, SOAP notes are not without challenges. They can encourage overly concise documentation and the excessive use of abbreviations, making them difficult for non-professionals to understand. Additionally, while they excel in organizing information from session to session, SOAP notes may lack explicit guidance on addressing functional outcomes or specific patient goals. However, the adaptability of the SOAP format allows for customization to better serve the needs of physical therapy practice, including the integration of functional goals and outcomes.

Subjective - Gathering Patient Perspectives

In the Subjective section of a physical therapy SOAP note, the focus is on the patient's perspective, offering a narrative that encompasses their current condition, symptoms, and overall progress. This section is vital for understanding the patient's experience and forms the foundation for the subsequent Objective, Assessment, and Plan components. To ensure a comprehensive and effective Subjective section, consider the following points:

  • Patient Self-Report: Include detailed information on the patient's chief complaint, current condition, symptoms, and how these affect their daily life. Utilize the OLDCART mnemonic (Onset, Location, Duration, Characteristics, Aggravating factors, Radiating or relieving factors, and Timing) to guide the collection of this information.

  • Medical and Social History: Document not only the medical and surgical history but also the patient's medications, allergies, social history (including employment status, living environment), and cultural or religious beliefs. This holistic view supports a more tailored and effective treatment plan.

  • Functional Status and Goals: Detail the patient's functional status, activity level, and response to previous treatments. Importantly, discuss the patient's goals and expectations for recovery. This aligns the treatment plan with the patient's aspirations and motivates progress.

This section not only informs the clinical approach but also strengthens the therapist-patient relationship through empathy and understanding. By integrating these elements effectively, therapists can ensure a comprehensive and patient-centered approach to care.

Objective - Recording Measurable Data

The Objective section of a physical therapy SOAP note is where the clinician documents all measurable, observable, and quantifiable data gathered during the patient's session. This includes a wide array of clinical findings, from vital signs to specific test results, which are essential for crafting an evidence-based treatment plan. Key elements to include are:

  • Physical Examination Findings: Detail observations such as muscle tightness, tenderness on palpation, and any abnormalities in gait or posture. For instance, noting "tightness in lumbar paraspinal muscles bilaterally" provides specific information about the patient's condition.

  • Tests and Measures: Include results from range of motion assessments, strength tests, and any special tests conducted. Documenting the patient's functional abilities, balance, and coordination through these assessments offers a baseline for tracking progress.

  • Treatment Details and Patient Response: Interventions or specific treatments provided, e.g., gait training, transfers, therapeutic exercises, manual stretching.  Take note of reactions or improvements following treatment, ensuring to document any adverse responses

Precision in documenting these measurements is crucial for tracking patient progress, adjusting treatment plans, and communicating effectively with other healthcare professionals. This objective data, combined with the subjective insights from the patient, forms a comprehensive overview of the patient's condition and the impact of the physical therapy interventions.

Assessment - Analyzing Clinical Findings

In the Assessment section of a physical therapy SOAP note, the therapist employs their professional judgment to synthesize the subjective and objective data collected, providing a comprehensive analysis of the patient's current condition. This section is pivotal, as it reflects the therapist's interpretation and reasoning, guiding the treatment plan. Key aspects to consider include:

  • Professional Judgment and Diagnosis: The therapist evaluates the patient's condition, such as identifying "Low back syndrome secondary to postural changes due to prolonged work at a computer desk," ensuring the assessment is specific and relevant to the patient's needs.

  • Legal and Professional Implications: Recognizing the Assessment's significance as a legal document, it's essential to articulate the rationale behind treatment decisions clearly. This includes:

  • Stating and explaining the reasoning for diagnoses and treatments.

  • Documenting how conclusions were reached based on subjective and objective findings.

  • Justifying specific treatment decisions tailored to the patient's unique problems.

By meticulously documenting the synthesis of collected information and the analytical thought process, the Assessment section serves as a cornerstone for personalized patient care, ensuring treatment plans are both evidence-based and tailored to individual needs.

Plan - Developing a Focused Treatment Strategy

Developing a focused treatment strategy involves a comprehensive plan tailored to meet the patient's specific needs, based on the thorough assessment previously conducted. This plan is pivotal in guiding the course of action for achieving optimal patient outcomes. Key components of the treatment plan include:

Anticipated Goals and Expected Outcomes:

  • Specific: Clearly define what the patient aims to achieve, such as improved range of motion in the affected joint.

  • Measurable: Set criteria for measuring progress, like degrees of motion or time to complete tasks.

  • Achievable: Ensure goals are attainable with the patient's current condition.

  • Relevant: Goals should directly address the patient's primary concerns or impairments.

  • Time-bound: Establish a realistic timeframe for achieving these goals.

Planned Interventions:

  • Frequency: Detail how often interventions will occur, e.g., 2x/weekly.

  • Specific Interventions: List treatments such as therapeutic exercises, manual therapy, or use of modalities.

  • Treatment Progression: Outline how the intensity or complexity of interventions will increase.

  • Equipment Required: Specify any tools or devices needed for treatment or home exercises.

  • Education Strategies: Describe patient education on condition management, injury prevention, and the importance of adherence to the treatment plan.

  • Home Exercise Program (HEP): Clearly outline exercises the patient should perform at home, including frequency and duration.

Adjustments to the Intervention Strategy:

  • Document any changes to the treatment plan based on patient progress or response to therapy.

  • Ensure modifications are made to better align with evolving goals or to address any new concerns that arise.

Patient Education and Home Exercise Program (HEP):

  • Documentation of the patient's home exercise program, detailing steps to reach functional goals.

  • Effective communication to ensure the patient understands the services offered, interventions expected, and their role in the recovery process.

  • Utilization of PtEverywhere or similar software for streamlined treatment process management and patient data documentation.

This structured approach ensures a clear path to recovery, incorporating specific interventions, therapeutic exercises, and strategies aimed at achieving the patient's goals, while adhering to legal and ethical standards in physical therapy practice.

Physical Therapy SOAP Note Example #1: 45 Year old male M54.59: Other low back pain


  • Patient Description: 45-year-old male presenting with chronic lower back pain.

  • Symptoms: Moderate, persistent lower back pain, worsened by bending, twisting, and prolonged standing. Pain somewhat managed with medication.

  • Chief Complaint: "I can't do my usual activities or work without feeling a lot of pain in my back."

  • History of Present Illness: Patient reports the onset of symptoms approximately 6 months ago, with gradual worsening. No specific injury reported.

  • Patient Goals: To reduce back pain, improve mobility and return to daily activities without discomfort.


  • Physical Examination: Revealed moderate tenderness in the lumbar region, with no obvious deformities.

  • Objective Tests & Measures: The Oswestry Disability Index (ODI) = 21, indicating moderate disability. Visual Analogue Scale (VAS) for pain = 6/10.

  • Special Tests: Straight Leg Raise (SLR) negative for radiculopathy.

  • Observations: Patient displayed difficulty transitioning from sitting to standing and demonstrated a cautious gait pattern.

  • Treatments/Interventions:

  • Manual Therapy: Applied manual therapy techniques including soft tissue mobilization to the lumbar paraspinal muscles and manual lumbar traction. The aim was to decrease muscle tension and improve segmental mobility of the lumbar spine.

  • Duration: 15 minutes.

  • Therapeutic Exercise: Initiated a therapeutic exercise program focused on strengthening the core stabilizers and improving lumbar flexibility. Exercises included pelvic tilts (3 sets of 10 reps), cat-cow stretches for lumbar flexion and extension mobility (3 sets of 10 reps), and partial abdominal crunches to strengthen the abdominal musculature (3 sets of 10 reps).

  • Duration: 20 minutes.

  • Neuromuscular Re-education:  Conducted neuromuscular re-education exercises including single-leg balance to improve proprioception and postural stability, and seated stability ball exercises to enhance core engagement and coordination during movements. Single-leg balance (each leg for 30 seconds, repeated 3 times), seated stability ball exercises focusing on maintaining upright posture while performing gentle upper body movements (3 sets of 10 reps).

  • Duration: 15 minutes.


  • Diagnosis: M54.59 Other low back pain. The patient demonstrates moderate lumbar pain with associated functional limitations, particularly affecting movements requiring lumbar flexion and rotation.

  • Progress: Not applicable as this is the initial assessment.

  • Is there a functional impairment that will improve with skilled therapy?: Yes, functional impairments in strength, ROM, and pain management can be addressed with skilled PT.

  • Potential for Rehab: Good, given the patient's motivation and the absence of significant structural anomalies.


  • Goals: Short-term goals include increasing lumbar ROM by 15% and improving functional strength for daily activities within 6 weeks. Long-term goals aim at returning to daily tasks without discomfort and enhancing mobility for stairs and walking within 4 months.

  • Immediate Interventions: To include manual therapy, lumbar stabilization exercises, and flexibility focused on the lumbar spine and surrounding musculature.

  • Frequency: 2 sessions per week for the first 4 weeks, with reassessment planned for the fifth week. Adjustments to the treatment plan will be made based on the patient's progress and tolerance to the interventions.

Physical Therapy SOAP Note Example #2 21 Year Old Female S83. 511D for Sprain of anterior cruciate ligament of right knee


  • Patient Description: 21-year-old female post-operative for knee injury.

  • Symptoms: Reports significant pain and instability in the knee, with a marked decrease in functional mobility.

  • Chief complaint: "My knee feels very unstable, and I can barely walk without crutches."

  • History of Present Illness: Recently underwent knee surgery, experiencing severe limitations in mobility and daily activities post-operation.

  • Patient Goals: To reduce knee pain, regain stability, and return to pre-injury levels of activity without reliance on assistive devices.


  • Physical Examination: Notable swelling and reduced muscle tone around the knee. Limited knee extension and flexion observed.

  • Objective Tests & Measures: Lower Extremity Functional Scale (LEFS) Score = 36. Manual Muscle Testing (MMT) indicates quadriceps and hamstrings strength at 2/5. Knee ROM: -15 degrees extension, 90 degrees flexion.

  • Special Tests: Lachman test indicates anterior laxity; positive McMurray test suggests meniscal involvement.

  • Observations: Patient demonstrates difficulty with weight-bearing on the affected leg and relies on crutches for mobility. Unable to perform a straight leg raise without significant discomfort.

Treatment/Interventions Performed:

Manual Therapy (CPT Code: 97140): Duration: 10 minutes

  • Intervention: Gentle joint mobilizations (Grade I-II) to the knee to decrease pain and improve joint nutrition without exacerbating symptoms.

Therapeutic Exercise (CPT Code: 97110): Duration: 15 min

  • Intervention 1: Isometric quadriceps exercises to enhance muscle strength without moving the knee joint.

  • Movement: Patient instructed to tighten thigh muscles while keeping the leg straight.

  • Sets/Reps: 3 sets of 10 reps, holding each contraction for 5 seconds.

  • Intervention 2: Hamstring sets to maintain and slightly improve muscle strength in the initial post-operative phase.

  • Movement: Patient gently contracts hamstring muscles without moving the knee.

  • Sets/Reps: 3 sets of 10 reps, holding each contraction for 5 seconds.

Neuromuscular Re-education (CPT Code: 97112): Duration: 5 minutes.

  • Intervention: Weight shifting exercises while seated to improve knee stability and proprioception.

  • Movement: Patient shifts weight from the non-affected leg to the affected leg without lifting feet off the ground.

  • Sets/Reps: 2 sets of 10 reps, focusing on controlled, slow movements.


Diagnosis: Post-operative knee pain and instability, S83.511D.

Progress: Initial assessment indicates severe functional impairment due to pain, weakness, and restricted ROM.

Is there a functional impairment that will improve with skilled therapy?: Yes, significant potential for improvement with targeted interventions.

Potential for rehab: High, given the patient's age and motivation to return to pre-injury activity levels.



Short-term - Improve quadriceps and hamstrings strength to 3/5 MMT; increase knee ROM to -5 degrees extension and 110 degrees flexion.

Long-term - Achieve 4/5 MMT for leg muscles; return to pre-injury activity levels without assistive devices.

Immediate Interventions: To include progressive strengthening exercises, ROM exercises, balance and proprioception training, and pain management strategies.

Frequency: 2 sessions per week for the first 4 weeks, with reassessment planned for the fifth week.Best Practices for Effective SOAP Note Documentation

Best Practices for Effective SOAP Note Documentation

Adhering to best practices for effective SOAP note documentation in physical therapy is crucial for ensuring comprehensive patient care and seamless communication among healthcare professionals. Here are essential guidelines to enhance the quality and efficiency of your SOAP notes:

  • Efficiency with EMR:

  • Utilize Electronic Medical Record (EMR) software with advanced note-taking features.

  • Integrate digital PT SOAP note solutions with electronic health records (EHRs) for seamless information flow.

  • Tips for Effective Writing:

  • Be specific and concise; avoid unnecessary wordiness.

  • Use standardized terminology and objective language.

  • Focus on patient-centered care, ensuring documentation is evidence-based.

  • Address follow-up, long-term plans, and maintain professional tone.

  • Data Management and Security:

  • Digital platforms facilitate the collection and analysis of data, offering insights into treatment effectiveness.

  • Employ robust security protocols to ensure patient information confidentiality.

By adhering to these best practices, physical therapy professionals can ensure their SOAP notes are not only a valuable tool for patient care but also a robust document for legal and ethical considerations.


In sum, the deliberate structuring and meticulous construction of Physical Therapy SOAP notes, as outlined in this article, are fundamental to elevating patient care and enhancing communication among healthcare professionals. Each component—Subjective, Objective, Assessment, and Plan—serves a vital role, ensuring a comprehensive and holistic approach to each patient’s treatment and recovery process. The examples provided underscore the utility of SOAP notes in addressing a wide array of conditions, from common muscular strains to more complex cases like ACL sprains, illustrating the adaptability and precision that SOAP note documentation offers to the field of physical therapy.

Furthermore, the best practices highlighted offer a clear path toward optimizing the efficiency and efficacy of this documentation method. By embracing EMR systems, adhering to concise and standardized writing, and maintaining rigorous data management protocols, physical therapists can not only streamline their documentation process but also reinforce the integrity and confidentiality of patient data. Ultimately, the effective use of SOAP notes stands as a pillar of quality care in physical therapy, facilitating targeted treatments and fostering better patient outcomes.


How do I write an Effective SOAP Note in Physical Therapy?

To craft an effective SOAP note for physical therapy, follow the guidance provided by the American Physical Therapy Association, which emphasizes the inclusion of several key elements:

  • The patient's self-reported condition or symptoms.

  • Detailed information about the specific interventions applied during the session.

  • A list of any equipment utilized.

  • Any changes observed in the patient's status.

  • Documentation of any complications or adverse reactions experienced by the patient.

What is the Correct SOAP Note Format?

The correct format for a SOAP note encompasses four essential sections: Subjective (S), Objective (O), Assessment (A), and Plan (P), which form the acronym SOAP. These notes should relay pertinent information from the therapy session that is crucial for other healthcare professionals to ensure the continuation of appropriate care.

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